Massachusetts Minutemen 10-20-2 (5-15-1) Hockey East 12th
UConn Huskies 9-17-7 (6-11-4) Hockey East 10th
It’s hard to believe but the end of the regular season is upon us. The Massachusetts Minutemen will try to close things out on a high note by continuing their better play as of late when they take on UConn in Hartford on Friday night. UMass must win this game if they have any chance to improve their spot in the final Hockey East standings. But even a with a win they’ll still need New Hampshire to sweep Merrimack in order to grab the 11th seed in the conference tournament.
These teams have gone in very different directions since they first met on January 2nd, a 4-3 Husky win. As we know UMass has improved greatly since the first half of the season and has gone 5-6-2, with wins over ranked Merrimack, Lowell, and Providence, since that loss to UConn. The Huskies meanwhile have gone 4-8-3, including losing their last four games in a row with a combined score of 3 to 24.
The Huskies strength earlier in the season was their defense and their goaltending. That’s what allowed them to squeak out wins over #3 Boston College, #6 Lowell, and #11 Vermont. But that defensive discipline has escaped them. Whether it’s the wear and tear of an entire Hockey East schedule or something else, the Huskies are playing like they’ve run out of gas. That’s especially true for UConn goaltender Rob Nichols, who for stretches looked like one of the league’s best netminders, but has now given up close to five and a half goals per game in his last six starts.
Nichols’ teammates haven’t done him many favors over that time either. In those six games the team has scored just a single goal in five of them and were shutout in the sixth. The last time the Huskies scored more than two goals was a 3-3 tie against Notre Dame on January 16th. UMass will need to keep an eye on freshman Spencer Naas and senior Trevor Gerling though as they are the only two Huskies who have double digits in goals. They also scored two goals apiece in the Huskies earlier win over UMass.
For UMass they just have to keep doing what they’re doing. Yesterday I broke down exactly what has changed from a statistical standpoint in the last couple months when UMass has improved their play. Namely, they’ll have to continue to get consistent contributions from Frank Vatrano and Dennis Kravchenko. We’ll have to see if Shane “TGIF” Walsh can keep up his recent heroics that has seen him score 8 goals over the last seven Fridays. Brandon Montour will have to continue his near point a game production while keeping the defense on their toes. But most importantly Steve Mastalerz will have to continue to be the reliable backstop who has put up a .919 save percentage over his last 8 games.
At the end of December when the team had only four wins the only hope was that they’d somehow get things together, string together a few wins, perhaps upset a ranked team or two, build momentum, and see what happens in the playoffs. Well the playoffs are only a week away and the team is definitely trending in the right direction. But before they can try to be the spoiler in the playoffs they have one more job to do. And that’s to beat a reeling UConn team and at least give themselves a shot at staying out of the Hockey East cellar. This has been a very tough season at times, but a win tomorrow would give the team a 7-7-2 record over the last 16 games and that would be an accomplishment in itself.
Beer The Triangle I haven’t been there myself but City Steam Brewery isn’t too far from the XL Center.
Usually Tuesday is reserved for recruiting news, but there a few things worth sharing. First, Brandon Egli, a defenseman playing in the BCHL, was released from his National Letter of Intent due to issues he’s having with the NCAA Clearinghouse. Elgi was due in Amherst this fall. It’s unknown if he’d recommit if his qualification issues are resolved. Whatever happens I wish him luck and hope he’s able to fulfill his wish to play college hockey, be it at UMass or somewhere else.
The Calgary Herald had an excellent article on the rollercoaster season of goaltending recruit Nic Renyard that saw him without a team to last fall to AJHL MVP.
Lastly, 2016 recruit Ty Pelton-Byce is a finalist for Wisconsin Mr Hockey.